At 2:30 p.m. on a warm Saturday in April, 3 Stars Brewing Company is packed with the usual suspects: couples sipping beer samples, friends tearing into barbecued ribs and, at the front of the warehouse-turned-tasting room, a cluster of strollers arranged in a circle like a covered-wagon caravan.
Holding his 19-month-old son, Christopher Nelson surveys his surroundings at 3 Stars — the exposed pipes, the spirited game of cornhole in the corner — and deems it a “camp for 20-somethings.”
“It’s a strange feeling. It’s obviously not a place that’s geared toward children,” says the 35-year-old government analyst. “These nice people are polite enough to let us stay for a while.”
Craft beer’s key consumers — 21- to 36-year-olds, according to market research firm Nielsen — are in their prime childbearing years, making breweries appealing to young parents who want to socialize beyond the playground.
“We enjoy good beers; we did before having kids and we do after having kids,” says Capitol Hill resident Lyndsey Medsker, 39.
The senior vice president at a public affairs firm visits breweries about once a month and often takes her sons, ages 4 and 6. “A typical Saturday morning for us is T-ball or soccer, and one of the kids usually has a birthday party, so it’s all centered around kids. It’s nice during the middle of the day to have a more grown-up activity with friends.”
Conveniently for parents, city regulations limit the hours when craft breweries without restaurants are permitted to serve beer (1 to 9 p.m.), so the establishments are open only during most kids’ waking hours. And their casual atmospheres put families at ease.
“Since we’re not a traditional bar or restaurant, kids aren’t stuck in their seats,” says Patrick Mullane, 39, co-founder of Hellbender Brewing Company in Northeast D.C. “Kids running around here is perfectly fine.”
Mullane says he had kids and expectant mothers in mind when he added house-made sodas to Hellbender’s menu. Wunder Garten, the just-opened beer garden in NoMa, is considering launching a “family-friendly” period.
Still, some of the parents at 3 Stars this particular Saturday say breweries could be more accommodating to families. Dave Bates, a 30-year-old State Department employee who has a 10-month-old daughter, says he’d appreciate an outdoor space where she could crawl freely. Jennifer Chriss, a 36-year-old patent examiner with 7-month-old and 4-year-old children, would like morning hours, before naptime.
Sitting at a 3 Stars picnic table, Meg Rego, a 30-year-old American University program coordinator, says she initially was surprised to see children at breweries, which she likens to bars.
“It’s nice to be able to see myself in some of the people here and say, ‘Oh good, just because you have a kid doesn’t mean all fun is gone,’ ” she says.
But she draws the line at breweries catering to children.
“If this became kid playtime …” she trails off. “I would not come to this establishment at this time. It’s not story time at the library.”
And as a parent, Nelson says he doesn’t expect an alcohol-focused business to prioritize children’s needs. “Twenty-somethings need their own chapel,” he says, gesturing around 3 Stars. “This is it.”
Rebecca Koenig (For Express)